MDOT still fighting rehire

Despite threerulings that she was unjustly fired for political reasons and $114,000in legal costs to taxpayers, the Mississippi Department ofTransportation is continuing to fight rehiring former employee ShirleyRutland.

"This was absolutely atrocious — the worst personnel decision I've everseen," said Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall, oneof three elected MDOT policymakers. "She's won at every level, and we'llhave to pay all her back pay with interest, but still they're fightingit. These other two yahoos (elected Northern and Southern transportationcommissioners) just sit there and do nothing."

Rutland, Hall's assistant, was fired by MDOT Director Butch Brown,Hall's political archenemy, whom Hall once had fired. Hall and Rutlandallege, and so far an employee board and two courts have agreed, Brownfired Rutland as payback to Hall and because she was writing newsreleases that listed Hall as chairman of the commission, which he was atthe time. Hall says Brown created an "External Affairs" division tohandle news releases so he could thwart Hall getting good publicityabout MDOT projects.

But Brown denies this. He says Rutland, whose husband is his cousin, wasfired for being "disruptive," circumventing MDOT procedure and "spendingtime doing (Hall's) campaign work" instead of her MDOT duties. Brownsaid External Affairs, which has recently been changed to the "OutreachDivision," was created to better manage MDOT communications.

Rutland declined to comment for this story on advice of her lawyer.Hall and Brown have for years made it no secret they despise each other.

In 2003, Hall had Brown fired, in a 2-1 vote of the commission. Butafter an election changed the commission’s makeup, Brown was rehired ina 2-1 vote. Since then Hall has said he is odd man out — with Brown andthe other two commissioners ostracizing him. He claimed Brown had himbanished, literally, from MDOT headquarters, moving him to a trailer faraway from the downtown office because of "renovations."

Court records show Brown was in the process of having Rutland fired in2003 when Hall instead had him fired. When Brown returned, he firedRutland in early 2004.

Rutland appealed to the Mississippi Employee Appeals Board, whichordered her reinstated with back pay. MDOT appealed this decision toHinds County Circuit Court, which also ruled in Rutland's favor.MDOT appealed that decision to the state Court of Appeals, whichrecently also ruled in Rutland's favor.

The agency has now asked for a rehearing before the court, which has yetto rule on that request.

As a "non-state service" employee, Rutland is not covered by the statePersonnel Board and can by law be fired, without notice, for any reasonother than "on the basis of race, color, creed, sex, religion, nationalorigin, age, disability or political affiliation . . . "

The appellate court ruled: "We find that the decision . . . findingRutland's termination to be politically motivated, is supported bysubstantial evidence and must be afforded deference by this court." Itaffirmed the ruling that Rutland should be reinstated to her position asHall's assistant, with back pay and benefits, and that all costs of theappeal be assessed to MDOT.

They said it

“Rutland testified that . . . Brown asked her for whom she worked. When Rutlandstated that she worked for Hall, Brown became enraged and according toRutland stated: 'The Bible says that you can only serve one master, andaround here, I'm the G-d d----- master, that son-of-a-b---- Hall doesnot run this agency.' ” — from Mississippi Court of Appeals record

“That's totally untrue. I remember in one conversation I said you haveto decide who your boss is here, you can't work for the department andthe commission. I said that even in the Bible it says man can only serveone master. I was just stating the one-man, one-boss principle ofmanagement.”— MDOT Director Butch Brown, who called fired employee Rutland'stestimony that he used curse words and claimed he was the master is"absurd."

“I've never seen anybody like (Butch Brown). His ego wouldn't fit inMadison Square Garden. He rules by fear. That's his management style,and all the employees know it. They all know why Shirley was fired, andthe morale is horrible.”— Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall